reading questions to
B. F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom
A technology of behavior
- "What we need is a technology of behavior."
Why a "technology"? Why won't the other sciences do?
- What is the difference between a science of
physics and science of behavior?
- "Was putting a man on the moon actually easier
than improving education in our public schools?"
- What is Skinner's complaint about
"personalities, states of mind" etc.? What would he replace them
- What is a "stimulus"? How does it, in concert
with a response, form a reflex?
- "The environment not only prods or lashes, it
selects." What does Skinner mean here?
- What is "operant" behavior? How is it
different from the Stimulus- Response reflex?
- "A scientific analysis...shifts the credit as
well as the blame to the environment." Why is this a
- How does "operant conditioning" work? What is
a "negative reinforcer"? A "positive reinforcer"?
- What is the reciprocal reinforcement between a
slave driver and a slave?
- According to Skinner, what is the "literature
of freedom" and what does it define its task as?
- What is the problem, with defining freedom as
"the feeling of freedom"?
- What are the schedules of reinforcement in
"piece work" and in gambling? Why are they so powerful at
maintaining behavior even in what one might call "aversive"
- Why has the literature of freedom failed to
"rescue the happy slave"?
- Why do we prefer "weak" practices of
- Why does "credit vary with the conspicuousness
of the reward"?
- "We do not protest because we feel
resentful...We protest and feel resentful" What is Skinner's point
- Why does Skinner's "scientific conception"
- What is punishment used for? How does it
differ from negative reinforcement?
- What is one disadvantage of
- How does Skinner reinterpret the "dynamisms"
- Why does punishment not teach people how to
- What, in Skinner's terms, is the difference
between "being good" and "behaving well"?
- How s the visibility of punitive conditions
associated with the credit we give to people for "behaving
- "Goodness ... waxes as control wanes ..." What
does Skinner mean by this?
- What does Skinner say is wrong with attempts
to "increase a sense of responsibility" in order to deal with
- "The mistake ... is to put the responsibility
anywhere..." What does Skinner mean by this?
- "The literatures of freedom and dignity ...
have acted to preserve "[punitive techniques]. Why &
Alternatives to punishment
- Name advantages and disadvantages with these
alternatives to punishment: permissiveness, "midwifery," guidance,
dependence on things, persuasion.
- "What is changed is the probability of
action." What does this mean?
- What is the difference between "brainwashing"
and legitimate persuasion?
- What are Skinner's descriptions of:
"permissive" governments, "free" economies, "open" schooling, and
- What is "the fundamental mistake of those who
choose weak methods of control"?
- "If a science of behavior can tell us how to
change behavior, can it tell us what changes to make?"
- In Skinner's terms, what are "good" and "bad"
- What is the relationship between a "pleasing"
thing and a "reinforcing" thing?
- In Skinner's terms, what is it to "act
- What is a "conditioned reinforcer"? How is it
related to "acting for the good of others"?
- Explain how a hero is induced to act for the
good of others.
- Translate "To get to Boston you ought to use
route 1" and "You ought to tell the truth" into Skinnerian
- Try doing this to some of the Ten
Commandments. Do you lose or gain anything by doing
- Explain the conflict between obeying the Honor
code and not turning in a friend in terms of contingencies of
- Translate anomie, hopelessness, and amorality
into Skinnerian terms. How does it differ from a dictionary
- What advantage does Skinner claim for this
sort of translation?
- Use the concept of conditioned reinforcers to
explain banking a fire and avoiding the rain.
Evolution of a culture
- How does the "survival of a culture" emerge as
a new value?
- How are cultural and species evolution
- Why is cultural evolution "Lamarckian"? You
will have to look up Lamarck in an encyclopedia.
- What is "Social Darwinism"? Why do cultures
compete with the environment rather than with each
- "A culture evolves when new practices further
the survival of those who practice them." Why?
- Why are personal good, the good of others, and
the good of a culture reasons to adopt a technology of
- What produces "feelings" about one's culture
and the "desire" to ensure its survival?
- What is the value by which a culture should be
- What is the honest answer to a question about
why we should care about our culture?
- "Evolution makes [species and
cultures] more sensitive to their environment." Why is this
- What is the task of the cultural
The design of a culture
- Does Skinner's description of the college
graduate help understand what can be done about his
- In Skinner's terminology, what is
- What data are important in experiments on
operant behavior? Why are they helpful in understanding
- What are the three levels of values that
teachers, parties, or industrialists can use to determine their
- How is designing a culture like designing an
- "Unplanned, undictated, and unperfected
cultures have failed too." Why is it important to note
- Why (and how) should we design for
- Should we design a world that we would like,
or one that the people who live in it would like?
- How do we prevent the misuse of controlling
power? How does "counter-control" help?
- How is learning rapidly likely to induce an
organism to form "superstitions"?
- Why are more people designing automobiles than
are working to improve life in the ghetto?
- Can a culture afford leisure?
What is man?
- What do we need, in addition to "a mere shift
in emphasis from man to environment" to better control our
- What are Skinner's descriptions of
"perceiving," "knowing" and "abstract thinking"?
- Self observation can be studied ... The
question is not whether a man can know himself, but what he knows
when he does so." What does Skinner mean here?
- Why is the verbal community important in
- How does Skinner explain it when a person
"discriminates" or "forms a concept" or "remembers"?
- What is the relationship between overt and
covert behavior? Which comes first?
- Skinner makes a distinction between "a body
with a person inside" and "a body which is a person." How are
- Does Skinner "de-humanize" or "mechanize"
- What is Skinner's reply to C. S. Lewis's
complaint that "... the power of man to make himself what he
pleases ... means ... the power of some men to make other men what
- After Newton, says Skinner, "... the rainbow
remained as beautiful as ever ..." Will humanity be as "human" as
ever after Skinner?